We have sticky notes because someone at 3M invented a glue that wasn’t very sticky. It was sticky enough to stay in place on certain surfaces, but not so sticky that it created a permanent bind or tore the material.
In other words, this happy accident occupied the Middle Way, neither stuck, nor loose. Not sticky, but sticky-ish. Sticky to an extent but not stuck in its ways. Able to stick when need be, able to unstick when the situation required it. Not too attached, not too detached.
Sticky notes are Zen.
I believe Chuang Tzu was predicting the rise of sticky notes when he said, “If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?” When the “sticky” glue was first invented, it seemed utterly useless. Glue that doesn’t stick? That’s about as useful as an inedible doughnut. (For my further thoughts on the relationship between doughnuts and Chinese masters, see this.)
But, you see, it was the glue’s uselessness (say that fast ten times) that made it useful.
Sticky notes also reside at the pivot Chuang Tzu praised as the still-point from which enlightened action occurs. Here he is from Thomas Merton’s loosey-goosey translation. (You have to translate the Chinese Masters loosey-goosey because to be too literal and direct divorces you from the Tao and such)
He who grasps the pivot is at the still-point from which all movements and oppositions can be seen in their right relationship…Abandoning all thought of imposing a limit or taking sides, he rests in direct intuition.
And of course the content of most sticky notes comes directly from intuition. It is instantaneous, frequently inspired, and as mobile as a hollowed-out gourd floating down the Yangtze.
The sticky pad is also empty. It absorbs all ink without changing its fundamental structure. It can be used for anything, but is ultimately useless. It is inexhaustible. There are always more sticky notes.
You don’t have to run off to a monastery to be enlightened. It can happen in your office. Your officestery, if you’d like.
They say that enlightenment is an accident, but that meditation makes you more accident prone. In the same way, Zen insight is the structure of the universe, an ever-present wave, obscured out in the open, but so what?
The sticky pad can help with this. It is profoundly good at “so what.”
It is the still pond into which the frog plops.